Dr. Gloria Horsley of The Open to Hope Foundation spoke with Elsa Aguilera during the Association for Death Education and Counseling conference. Aguilera’s mother is an immigrant, and she considers herself a first generation American. She noticed some big differences in grief between both sides of her family. On her mother’s side, grieving is very quiet and polite. On her father’s side, it’s more of a celebration of life. “It’s very interesting to be raised in a culture like that,” she says. When asked which culture’s grieving process she enjoys the most, Aguilera says that (being from Texas) simply being around family—no matter which culture is hosting—is what matters most.
“Not being able to talk” about grief in the Mexican culture is something Aguilera has struggled with. When her mother’s brother passed away and Aguilera was a child, nobody talked about what happened to him until many years later. “We wouldn’t want to ask something that would make her start crying,” she says.
Today, Aguilera’s work focuses on handling grief and she has joined the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston where she hosts grief workshops. Aguilera is also very active in helping the church to establish bereavement programs. Many parishes have a lot of trained bereavement specialists, but others don’t. Aguilera helps to train new bereavement counselors, consulting with parishes around the country. However, in some instances parishes are simply too small, and Aguilera travels to provide grief workshops to smaller areas.
She specializes in domestic violence and suicide, offering help and counseling services. Upcoming in September is a series of training sessions that will help church communities pinpoint those who might be in need. Using her unique bi-cultural background, Aguilera has become key throughout Texas in helping to bridge cultural gaps.